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VMware Unveils vSphere

Virtualization leader VMware sees a cloudy future for the datacenter. To that end, today the company announced vSphere 4, the next generation of what was formerly called VMware Infrastructure.

VMware is touting a number of major enhancements to its product, including expanded functionality, huge performance gains and a new pricing structure that makes vSphere more affordable on the low end.

"We're calling vSphere a cloud operating system," said Bogomil Balkansky, VMware senior director of product marketing. vSphere, Balkansky explained, "Enables companies to build internal clouds." The ultimate aim is to connect internal clouds with external clouds, building a cloud infrastructure that smashes traditional computing boundaries.

vSphere 4, the successor to VMware Infrastructure 3.5 (VI 3.5), includes much greater capacity per virtual machine (VM). VMware said that each VM in vSphere can utilize double the number of virtual processors as previously, 2.5 times the number of Network Interface Cards (NICs) and four times more memory, among other improvements.

Combined with new technologies like host profiles, distributed virtual switches, and thin provisioning of storage, Balkansky claimed that for a datacenter with 100 virtualized hosts, administrators could save an estimated 25 weeks -- half a year's worth -- of administration time.

Balkansky illustrated the potential vSphere financial savings with hard numbers. When combining 30 percent higher consolidation ratios, plus 20 percent electric savings, plus 50 percent savings on storage for 100 virtual hosts, VMware estimates a three-year savings over VI 3.5 of $2 million.

One of the crown jewels of vSphere, Balkansky said, is VMware Fault Tolerance, an upgrade over its current high availability technology. Fault Tolerance, he explained, "Is much more sophisticated technology than what we have in VI 3. Two different copies of a VM [are kept] on a primary and secondary machine. If the first one fails, the second one takes over immediately."

Chris Wolf , a Burton Group Analyst and Virtualization Review magazine columnist, said vSphere is a substantial step forward for VMware. "I think they've raised the bar on features. Early indications are that performance is substantially improved over VI 3.5. It should allow more applications to be virtualized and more consolidation."

Another eagerly-awaited product is VMsafe, an application programming interface (API) that allows third-party vendors to build security tools that plug easily into vSphere. "At the top of the list for a lot of people is VMsafe. Organizations are looking at shared infrastructures, and security is extremely important" in cloud computing, Wolf said.

Enterprise Strategy Group Analyst Mark Bowker called vSphere an "Evolutionary change. It's their next step from a product perspective. vSphere is where a lot of that vision gets delivered and turned into a product."

Bowker said the performance enhancements could be significant, especially for enterprise settings. "The whole uptake in performance is important. Typically we see four to five VMs per server. They'd love to see 15-20 per server."

Another big shift concerns pricing. Whereas VI 3.5 had three price levels, vSphere has added more options at the low and high ends to be more competitive with solutions from companies like Microsoft and Citrix that tout the lower cost of their virtualization wares. "We have stretched three price points to six price points," Balkansky said.

At the lowest end, vSphere Essentials offers the free ESXi hypervisor and basic management tools for $995 for three servers. At the high end is Enterprise Plus, which includes all the features for $3,495 per CPU. Some of the advanced features have moved to the lower price tier as well. For example, VMotion, which migrates VMs from one physical server to another with no downtime, was available at the Enterprise level in VI 3.5. Now it's available at the cheaper Advanced level.

Bowker believes VMware's packaging and pricing is one of the most important aspects of vSphere. "All those features are interesting. But the way they've broadened packaging and pricing, going downstream for small offices and remote offices, and upstream for very mature virtualization environments," Bowker says, could have the greatest impact over time.

Today's announcement, said Wolf, puts increased distance between VMware and the competition. Burton Group has a set of criteria that judges each virtualization platform vendors' solution, and how enterprise-ready it is. He said vSphere puts VMware "Much, much further ahead. They have all of our required features and 83 percent of our preferred features. No one else even comes close to that. The next closest is in the 40s. VMware still has a substantial lead."

Bowker agreed with that assessment. "There's no question that the VMware advantage is the features and functionality gap between what they can do and what the competition can do."

Balkansky said vSphere should be available in the second quarter of this year. He added that the first release will be feature complete.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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